Having lean, strong legs is a common fitness goal among women. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there and women make mistakes that do not end up working towards achieving this goal.
Cardio, strength training and nutrition play their roles, but in what capacity? How do you use these tools to get those muscles to grow, the fat to burn and that lean look you’ve always wanted?
what not to do
1. Light Weights and High Repetitions
Women everywhere have been told time and time again that light weights and high repetitions are the key to burning fat and growing muscle in their legs. That’s not exactly the case.
There are three repetition ranges you can be in. The first, low range repetitions (three to six), will only allow you to build strength in your muscles. The second repetition range (eight to 12) is for building strength and size where you want to be. (I’ll explain more later). But, the third (12 to 20 repetitions) is where most women stay and end up getting frustrated when they do not see the results they’re looking for.
If you are consistently doing high repetitions with lighter weights all you are only working on is endurance. While endurance is an important aspect of fitness, it’s not going to get you the lean-looking legs you’ve been dreaming of. Continually working in this rep range will have no effect on the shape or size or the muscles in your legs.
2. Long Cardio Sessions
Don’t get me wrong, cardio is important. However, when you run on the treadmill for hour-long sessions and expect the fat to melt away, you may actually be working against your goal.
Cortisol is a hormone released during times of stress. It can be useful and can give us enough energy to get through a stressful situation, but too much can be dangerous. The problem is our bodies are not able to differentiate between good stress, bad stress, physical stress or emotional stress. So, when you decide to go for those hour-long cardio sessions, you are putting stress on your body and ultimately causing more cortisol to be released. If too much cortisol is released it throws off our blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar increases quickly and then drops quickly it leaves you craving sugar, feeling tired and ultimately more stressed out. This can be especially true for women over fifty.
what to do
Fortunately, knowing the correct way to incorporate strength training, cardio and nutrition choices, you can achieve those lean leg results much more efficiently.
1. Heavy Weights and Moderate Repetitions
By lifting heavy enough weights you can decrease your range to eight to 12 repetitions. This moderate range will allow your body to both build strength as well as get you into hypertrophy. Hypertrophy means you are increasing and growing the muscle. This is essential when you’re trying to define, tone, and shape any part of your body while weight training.
As trite as it may sound, you cannot exercise away a bad diet. So many people believe they will see results just by exercising and end up spending hours in the gym without seeing the results they came there for. If you continue to do workouts without healthy nutrition, even if you are working out in the proper rep range and doing the right exercise, all you will accomplish is building muscle underneath layers of fat.
This is probably how the myth that “weight lifting will make you look bulky” came about. Without proper nutrition, working out to get lean may have the opposite effect or at least not get you nearly as far as you could get without eating and maintaining a healthy diet.
Plyometric exercises involve speed and explosive movements, such as jump squats (which will be in your lean legs workout below). They’ll get your heart rate up and get you burning fat. These kinds of exercises are great for achieving a lean look because the explosive, short movements allow for short-term cardiovascular and endurance work.
Earlier, it was mentioned that you should not do long cardio sessions because it can cause a spike in cortisol, but that does not mean cardio is bad and should be avoided. Because plyometrics are endurance exercises that include exerting your muscles as well, these exercises are excellent for burning fat without putting a lot of stress on your body. That doesn’t mean they will be easy, but it does mean they are great for leaning out your legs.
Lean legs workout
Watch the video below to get a recap of everything you can do to get lean legs. You can also check out the lean legs workout, which includes six exercises and demonstrations of each. I’ll show you how to modify them or make them harder depending on your level of fitness. Pay close attention to the correct form so you can get the most out of your exercises and stay safe while performing them. You can add this workout routine to your weekly schedule to get those lean, sexy legs you’ve always wanted.
Remember, keep the weights heavy enough to maintain eight to 12 reps and try to complete at least two to three sets of each exercise. Most importantly, have fun with it and enjoy yourself.
If you can commit to this workout consistently, along with following a healthy diet, you will be that much closer to getting lean and strong legs.
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Lisa Swanson is an ACE Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Orthopedic Exercise Specialist as well as a certified AASDN and PN level 1 nutritionist. With over 35 years experience helping people turn their lives around, she is on a mission to provide relevant and useful knowledge to help women in midlife reach their goals.
Check out my interview with the Magnificent Midlife podcast on staying fit and healthy long-term.